Victory doesn't provide the full picture

Is there any more polarising sports team on the planet than New Zealand's enigmatic Black Caps?

There probably is, although one doesn't readily spring to mind.

Just when we'd exhausted our supply of expletives in describing their disastrous efforts in the recent test series, they confound everyone by recording a historic one-day series win against South Africa on the Proteas' home turf.

The Black Caps' plethora of critics might be quick to point out that, even in a limited-overs context, a South African team without the likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, A B de Villiers and Dale Steyn represents a rather pale imitation of their regular world-class mix.

That's obviously beyond the Black Caps' control, and also a convenient out for those - and you know who you are - who constantly revel in New Zealand's perennial dysfunction. They're a hard team to support, but every now and then, as transpired yesterday in Kimberely, they have the capacity to string together a surprisingly competent and entertaining performance.

Even more surprising, they've now managed two on the trot, and with the now-dead third rubber beckoning in Potchefstroom on Saturday, it will be intriguing to see whether that winning form extends to three consecutive matches.

Kane Williamson's stunning unbeaten century obviously highlighted the Black Caps' win. However, it was their concerted fielding effort, an aspect of their game for which they've previously received widespread and justifiable acclaim, that reaffirmed the age-old sporting truism that good defence, irrespective of the code, is central to any expectation of success.

Frustratingly, though, the Black Caps' collective attention spans don't appear to extend much beyond 100 overs. So in terms of transferring any limited-overs form into the test arena, there's no logical or reliable connection.

Their winning effort might have eased some of the mounting pressure on coach Mike Hesson, although for the purists, his inability to mould his test players into anything like a cohesive unit won't afford him any long-term solace.

And that's the real rub. Despite the significance of yesterday's achievement, it's test cricket that will always provide the real measure of any team's success on the international stage.

Still, it was nice to finally have one of New Zealand's most-vilified teams enjoying some success - and, irrespective of the absence of some key South African stars, it did remind us of the team's capacity to occasionally beat the odds.

It's just not regular enough for some of us, and it's not in the format that really matters. We'll take it, anyway, and congratulate them on a job well done. Just be prepared for normal transmission to resume, particularly in a test match context, when England finally hit New Zealand in a few weeks.

The Nelson Mail